Ciona Ulbrich, a senior project manager at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, recently won a national award for her work to conserve land in Maine. Credit: Courtesy of Ciona Ulbrich

A Maine conservation champion took home a national award last week for her work to protect more than 11,000 acres throughout the Blue Hill Peninsula and the midcoast.

Ciona Ulbrich, a senior project manager at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, was presented the Dr. Nancy Foster Habitat Conservation Award Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the American Fisheries Society at a conference in New Orleans. She has been instrumental in 170 habitat conservation projects throughout Maine, protecting an area that’s about 13 times larger than Central Park.

The award recognizes exceptional work to protect coastal and marine environments. Among the projects highlighted by the NOAA and the fisheries society was the restoration of fish passage to the Bagaduce watershed — the first watershed in the state to ever fully restore its alewife runs.

Ulbrich was integral to protect land along the Ducktrap River, one of the eight remaining runs for the endangered native Atlantic salmon, officials said.

Bailey Bowden, the head of the alewife committee in the small town of Penobscot, submitted Ulbrich’s name for the award after working with her on the Bagaduce project. Alewives returned to all five ponds in the watershed in 2022, the first time in about 50 years.

“The more I learned about her accomplishments over her 24-year career, it became apparent she needed more recognition,” Bowden said. “She was really the driving force behind the restoration of fish passage.”

Ulbrich, who lives in Blue Hill, also helped conserve three local mountains, more than a dozen islands in Penobscot Bay and Blue Hill Bay and 1,200 acres of land near Camden surrounding a secondary water supply for six midcoast towns.

Several leaders that supported Ulbrich’s nomination hailed her ability to bridge the gaps between towns, land trusts and government agencies.

“Her ability to bring people and various groups and stakeholders together to make a project happen is phenomenal and inspiring,” said Kathleen Billings, the Stonington town manager.

Ulbrich returned from Louisiana last week after accepting the award and was touched by the 18-pages of support letters singing her praises that Bowden had secretly submitted.

“It was really humbling,” said Ulbrich, who’s worked at the trust since 1998.

She is one of the only Mainers to ever win the award. Paul Dest, the director of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, took home the honors in 2016. Ulbrich said she was glad to see the Pine Tree State in the spotlight and proud of the work she’s done.

“Creating spaces that help shape this beautiful place is something I believe in,” she said. “A place to walk, catch a view, a place to get away from everything — whatever it is — it’s so valuable.”